More than 60 protesters were shot dead on Thursday in the deadliest day of anti-government protests in Ukraine, opposition medics said as rival sides traded accusations of sniper attacks and EU ministers tried to broker an end to the crisis.
The deaths came as the European Union agreed to impose sanctions on Ukrainians with "blood on their hands," though it left the door open to a political deal by naming no names.
The White House expressed renewed outrage over the continuing deadly violence, and Secretary of State John Kerry said late on Thursday that the US has started ``implementing sanctions through travel bans on Ukrainians responsible for the violence”.
The White House said Vice President Joe Biden, the Obama administration's prime contact with President Viktor Yanukovich in recent days, spoke to the Ukrainian leader by telephone Thursday afternoon and made clear that the US is prepared to sanction officials responsible for the violence.
President Viktor Yanukovich and the opposition protesters who are demanding his resignation are locked in an epic battle over the identity of Ukraine, a nation of 46 million that has divided loyalties between Russia and the West.
Parts of the country – mostly in its western cities – are in open revolt against Yanukovich’s central government, while many in eastern Ukraine back the president and favour strong ties with Russia, their former Soviet ruler.
“Yanukovich and Russian President Vladimir Putin are sticking to the line that this protest movement is the work of far-right extremists,” FRANCE 24’s Gulliver Cragg reported from Kiev.
"But one of the most striking things about this movement is just what a wide cross-section of Ukrainian society is involved," he said. "The majority are people who are afraid that democracy, and possibly even Ukraine’s independence – because of Yanukovich’s extreme dependence on Russia – is under threat."
In Brussels, the 28-nation European Union decided in an emergency meeting Thursday to impose sanctions against those behind the violence in Ukraine, including a travel ban and an asset freeze against some officials.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke with Putin and US President Barack Obama about the crisis in Ukraine on Thursday evening.
French, German and Polish foreign ministers travelled to Kiev, although there was no breakthrough in their talks with government officials and opposition leaders by Thursday night.
France's Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said there was still no agreement over a proposed roadmap to ease the crisis in Ukraine, describing the talks as "very difficult".
"There is no agreement for now, the negotiations are very difficult and we are working to reach a peaceful solution," he told reporters before leaving with his Polish and German counterparts to see Yanukovich after a more than two-hour meeting with the opposition.
Diplomatic sources indicated earlier that the roadmap would include forming a temporary government.
"We have to find every way to see how we can put a new government in place, think about elections and see how we can end the violence, but at this moment there is no solution," Fabius said.
The Kremlin issued a statement, with Putin blaming radical protesters and voicing “extreme concern about the escalation of armed confrontation in Ukraine”.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP)
Date created : 2014-02-20